By Jim Flick
Led by the one-man offense of quarterback Dan Graziano, Girard High defeated Niles 28-21 on Friday night.
Graziano passed or ran for all 422 yards of total offense the Indians (5-2) accumulated.
He also sealed the deal on defense, intercepting a Niles pass near the end zone on the final play of the game.
The junior quarterback threw for 364 yards, completing 15 of 21 passes without tossing an interception.
On the ground, Graziano gained all 58 yards of the Indians’ rushing offense in 18 attempts. One other Girard back carried the ball twice for no gain.
Landon Smith caught seven passes from Graziano for 206 yards and three touchdowns. But Smith was penalized and ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct as he scored his third touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Bryan Daugherty snagged four passes from the Girard quarterback for 123 yards and one touchdown.
The game’s leading rusher was Reggie Wells of Niles (3-4), who gained 165 yards in 28 carries. Wells scored the Red Dragons’ first two touchdowns.
“I’m happy for Dan,” said Girard coach Nick Cochran. “He works his butt off. He has a big heart.”
Cochran also called Smith “a special player” and said he plans to protest Smith’s ejection. Smith was flagged for celebrating as he strode toward the end zone. “It’s ridiculous,” the Girard coach said. “He didn’t do anything to hurt another player.” He pointed out that the officials didn’t flag Niles players who celebrated after scoring touchdowns.
“When two teams play like this, it’s tough to see anybody lose,” said Niles McKinley coach Brad Yeager.
Yeager added that thanks to a strong offensive line and lively running back, “We went back to traditional Niles football. Run first, pass second.”
The Red Dragons gained 211 yards rushing in 58 carries, nearly four times the Indians’ rushing yardage.
Girard put the first points on the board with a 10-play, 99-yard drive midway through the second quarter. The drive ended when Smith hauled down a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Niles struck back on the next series, tying the score when Wells burst through the right side of the line and raced 54 yards for a touchdown.
Niles kicked off to Girard to start the second half. On the third play of the third quarter, Graziano tossed a short pass to senior Bryan Daugherty, who burst down the sideline to score a touchdown on a 65-yard pass play.
Girard’s next possession lasted only a single play, as Smith snagged a pass from Graziano, who raced 67 yards for a touchdown. The Indians led 21-7 after David Meigs kicked the extra point.
Wells scored Niles’ second touchdown on a 54-yard run, but Smith scored Girard’s final touchdown of the night on a 32-yard pass. His celebration on the way to the end zone resulted in his ejection from the game.
Niles narrowed the margin to 28-21 when Pat Barrett caught a 19-yard from quarterback Zack Bailey late in the fourth quarter.
After sacking Graziano on a fourth-down play, Niles took over and drove toward the end zone. After reaching the Girard 23-yard line with only 38 second remaining, Bailey launched a pass toward the end zone. Graziano intercepted the pass and returned it to Girard’s 26-yard line.
The clock expired before Girard ran another play.